As of last week, Grey's Anatomy season 15 had been uncharacteristically light. The show was funny, lingering in the awkward humor of new love (looking at you, Dr. Kim!) and enjoying Meredith's decision to employ a matchmaker. But, according to showrunner Krista Vernoff, things are going to get darker, starting Thursday evening with episode 7. Vernoff told Refinery29 that this episode, which is her directorial debut, will delve into Dr. Richard Webber's (James Pickens, Jr.) struggles with alcoholism, a stark pivot for a season that was just getting to its first real love story.
"There’s romantic comedy Grey’s and then there’s always Very Special Dark Grey’s," Vernoff said. For the most part, she said, this season has been a romantic comedy — but not for long.
"It focuses on Richard and his journey this season, which is he’s becoming a little bit of a dry drunk," she said, adding, "He’s not replaced his sponsor who died. He’s not been making his meetings."
Webber's alcoholism has been the subject of the show since the early seasons. As of season 15, he's sober, but he's not quite alright. In episode 3, he came face-to-face with alcoholism when he treated a patient with gut fermentation, a condition that causes sugar to ferment in the stomach. Webber immediately assumed the patient was an alcoholic, and he went to great length to prove that he was. The patient wasn't, though, and Dr. Bailey (Chandra Wilson) scolded Webber for jumping to conclusions. This rash behavior is only going to get worse, Vernoff suggested.
Webber isn't going to start drinking necessarily; he's still dry. Explained Vernoff, "A dry drunk is an alcoholic who’s not drinking but also not working a program. A dry drunk can be a darker and more dangerous person than a drunk drunk."
Episode 7 marks the third in a line of female directors helming Grey's episodes; episodes 5 - 7 were directed by Chandra Wilson, Nicole Rubio, and Vernoff. Wilson is a Grey's veteran, one of a choice few actors who have survived all 15 seasons. Rubio, meanwhile, was a crew member on the pilot of the show. She's worked on Grey's since, and has directed a number of episodes over the years. And Vernoff, well, she's the showrunner. When you watch Richard Webber onscreen Thursday night (or on Hulu tomorrow morning), know that he was taking direction from his capital B boss.